Sunday, January 02, 2005

An American (Back) In L.A.

Cool stuff on sale on Olvera Street in L.A. Posted by Hello

After more than a decade of living in Asia, I now experience reverse culture shock every time I return to L.A. Asia feels normal and America strange. Here are a few things I had trouble adjusting (back) to during my holiday homecoming.

1. There are lots of crazy people. Specifically, people who are crazy in physically menacing ways. One day, for example, I go to see Ocean’s Twelve at a movie theater. In the middle of the movie, a guy comes into the theater, sits down behind me and starts giving a running commentary of the film. When I turn around annoyed, the crazy guy says, "I’ll kick your ass, yeah you," etc. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about me, but I was nervous about having this new possible non-friend behind me because this being the U.S., with the 2nd Amendment of its Constitution making it legal to own guns, this person could have decided to make his life into a shoot ‘em up action movie more interesting to him than Ocean’s Twelve, with me starring as one of the victims.

Later on, on the bus a guy starts yelling about how the F.B.I. are in Iran to figure out what the Ayatollah is up to, and other such interesting theories.

Street in Santa Monice. Posted by Hello

2. I went to Tower Records on Sunset, which must be one of the biggest CD stores in L.A., meaning it’s probably one of the largest in the U.S. But it doesn’t come close to the Tower Records in Shibuya, Tokyo, a seven-story Vatican Library of a CD store. One of the things I love about Tower Records Shibuya is its independent Japanese rock and pop section on the 2nd floor, highlighting the best of the Japanese indies music scene. Nothing like that for indies U.S. music at Tower Records on Sunset.

3. On the subject of retailers, why is it that in the U.S. the person who buys something thanks the person who sold the thing to him/her, rather than the other way around like in the rest of the world?

Santa Monice Pier. Posted by Hello

4. Maybe I’ve been in Japan too long, but people blowing their noses in public gross me out. In particular, I can’t understand why a well-dressed woman at the Opera would do so, during an aria, and then!, examine the finished product!

5. Los Angelinos spend much too much time talking about how bad traffic is. If you feel that strongly about it, build more public transportation. Or, at the least, more car pool lanes. And L.A. drivers are almost as bad as their Third World brethren when it comes to honking.

Christmas ornaments in an L.A. garden. Posted by Hello

6. Japanese television isn’t the greatest, but U.S. daytime television is, so, BAD. I know this isn’t news to U.S. residents, but it was a surprise to me, accustomed to watching American TV shows like the Sopranos and 24 on DVD.

7. Since when did putting up Christmas lights in the garden become a competitive obsession all across L.A.? And what’s the deal with those 10-foot inflatable plastic Snow Men blowing around on countless lawns? On a related matter, at my local elementary school, why is it fine now to advertise a Kwanzaa festival on the billboard, but you can’t mention Christmas?

A highway in L.A. Posted by Hello

UPDATE: An old friend who read this post e-mailed me to say he found it "odd that everything you had to say was negative", and that he thinks my observations "reflect more about your state of mind than they do about LA" (me and my psychoanalytical friends!).

He may be right about the state of mind bit, though I'd note that this was a post about the strange things I noticed as a returning Los Angelino, and wasn't meant to be a balanced and thorough portrait of L.A. But in the interest of not sounding like a grouch, let me say there are many great things about L.A.

First, though it has been said countless times, the weather rules. Every day while I was there the sky was sunny and blue, as if mocking me for living in often-overcast, and presently freezing, Tokyo.

Also, some parts of L.A. are beautiful, especially the coastal areas and the hills. The people are generally friendly, unless you interact with them in traffic (though you don't see many Los Angelinos on the street).

The Mexican food here is the real thing: eating it, I realize how uninspiring much of what passes for Mexican in Asia is. And there's a lot of other good food and many other nice things.

One very L.A. moment - I go to a big guitar shop on Sunset, and one of the shop clerks looks excited and says the energy level is insane in the store today. I ask why. He says Eddie Van Halen was just in the store, buying a small amp for his son and other items. "I mean, this was the Man Himself!" the clerk says. No, however amazing the Ochanomizu music instruments district in Tokyo is, you won't find the Man Himself shopping there, it's true.

No comments: